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Student Visas

Volume 472: debated on Monday 25 February 2008

1. What account she takes of the contribution of foreign students to the UK economy in taking decisions on student visas. (188113)

Foreign students benefit our country to the tune of almost £8.5 billion a year. Students will be included in the new points system, which will make the system easier to police.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Overseas students make a valuable contribution to this country’s economy. Universities recognise both that and their role as sponsors under this new visa scheme, but they are still unclear about how it will be administered. Will he talk to education institutions about how the new certificates will be administered and, above all, how the new registration requirements will be monitored?

My hon. Friend is right that big changes will be introduced in the granting of visas to students under the points system. In particular, a new register will come into place with much tougher obligations on colleges to report events such as non-attendance and extended periods of absence, but, more importantly, students will, for the first time, be tied to a specific institution—they will not be able to come in under the sponsorship of one organisation and switch in-country to another. As these are big changes, I plan to publish blueprints of how the new system will work as early as possible so that there is as much time as possible for us to discuss the details with universities. I will certainly make sure that I talk to universities in my hon. Friend’s area as we try to get these proposals right.

Foreign students undoubtedly make a valuable contribution to this country’s economy, but with one in five students dropping out of full-time education, many of whom are foreign students, how confident is the Minister that universities are communicating foreign student drop-out rates to the Border and Immigration Agency?

We introduced changes in April last year, through a change to the immigration rules, that made it mandatory for education institutions to keep effective records on, for example, enrolment, and to report those records to the BIA when asked to do so. The new proposals under the points system take that tightening of the system a stage on, so that it becomes mandatory for universities and other higher education institutions to report not only students who do not turn up for their course, but extended periods of absence. We are giving universities time to prepare for these changes because we realise the new burdens that will be put on them, but I think the hon. Gentleman would agree that the system needs to be tighter in future.

Is the Minister aware that a large number of language schools are completely bogus and are nothing more than a front to get people illegally into this country? What action is he taking against such bogus language schools?

We are determined to take colleges off the register of licence sponsors whenever we come across evidence of such abuse, and if the hon. Gentleman has information about colleges perpetrating such abuse I would, of course, be grateful to receive it. Well over 100 colleges have been taken off the register over the last year and a half, thanks to the work of the BIA.

Foreign students make a valuable contribution to many of our disciplines, particularly in manufacturing industry. However, there is one discipline through which they make little contribution to the UK economy: journalism. Will my hon. Friend therefore make sure that foreign journalists who apply for visas come here on the basis that they deal with factual evidence and factual evidence only?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that observation. It is important for it to be much harder for organisations to get on to the appropriate register in years to come. Under the points system, it will be easier to police new regulations on how colleges get on to the register. I will, of course, look at any new ideas for such requirements that my hon. Friend might like to suggest.